Image by Themis was here via FlickrToday, I attended a conference all about adoption. The focus was on creating nurturing transitions for newborns. However, the information shared is useful for all age ranges. The keynote speaker is an author and has been working and teaching in the adoption field for decades. There was a lot of good information in her keynote address.
I was moved deeply by the stories shared in a panel discussion format. The panels were made of up adoptive parents, birth parents (including 2 birth fathers) who had placed a child up for adoption and included 3 adoptees-1 adult, 1 teenager and 1 ten year old. The adoptions had taken place between about 5 and 50 years ago. The speakers were of varying ages and ethnicities.
I really learned a lot, and am inspired to think about how I may help people involved in and/or considering adoption. One thing that I noticed is that adoption is a life long process. There are many layers of emotion to the decision and there is no adoption that takes place without issues of grief and loss. There is loss for the birth parents, the adopted person and the adoptive parents. There is loss for the extended family of both sets of parents. There is loss that is felt but "discouraged" and mostly hidden by birth fathers.
The stories and experiences were very different, all across the spectrum from open to semi-open and closed adoptions. Things have shifted in the way unplanned pregnancies and adoptions are "handled" in the past 50 years or so. Mostly for the better, it sounds like. Although, we still have a lot of room for improvement.
It was inspiring, emotional, moving and made me want to do better in my work. It also reinforced the importance of honoring the birth family of my own children that are joining my family via adoption. I was especially moved by the stories of the birth fathers. I had the opportunity to have one of them join our table for lunch after the panel discussion. I was (all at once) impressed, dismayed, saddened, angered, encouraged and inspired by this man's heartfelt sharing of his experience. He had an ability to put words to an incredibly complex and painful experience, and on some small level, I was able to "get it" to maybe grasp just a little of what this had been like for him. I was angered by the way he was treated. I was dismayed by the depth of the pain that he still experiences over this loss that "happened" about 15 years ago. I was moved to tears by the fact that he had tattooed his daughter's name on his body so that he could have a visual reminder, an outward symbol of the daughter he "thinks about every 10 seconds, at least 100 times a day." Wow.
I was impressed by the teenager who sat between the woman who gave birth to her and the woman who adopted her, they were one big happy open adoption family. When the teen was asked how she handled nosy questions and comments from her friends, she responded "they can just get over it." She was stumped by us (the professionals in the audience) wanting to know how she handled this, or if her friends thought her family was weird. She said "this is normal to me, just the way it always has been." She did not think of herself or her family as different. She thought of it only as her family. Wow.
And there were many other stories, painful, inspiring, joyful, ever-changing. People are people and things change/evolve through the years. It sort of made me remember my philosophy that life is good AND bad, it's a big sticky mess at times, terribly painful, incredibly happy and everything in between. It is not all good or all bad. It is both, at the same time. The same appears to be true about adoption.
It also reinforced my belief that time alone is not an indicator of healing. I've always disagreed with the saying that "time heals all wounds." Time alone does not. It takes a bit of faith, a bit of work, a bit of grieving, a bit of being real and admitting when one needs help. And ALL of that takes time. It also takes forgiveness. Of self and of others.
I am thankful for all of these folks-for their willingness to talk about the hard stuff. To share their struggles and their triumphs. To be real. It is so enlightening, and inspires me to do better and to give thanks more freely.